Reformed

Notions of “Peace”

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.” – Jer 6:14

Recently, while volunteering at a local university with Christian campus ministry, I was caught up in a long conversation, speaking until my voice was nearly gone, fading in and out like spasmodic radio reception. While the conversation swam through a broad spectrum of topics, one specific conversation piece had my attention for the few days following. It centered around the basic theme of peace. What is peace, and how is it had? Is the peace of Christianity the same peace as the peace of, say, Buddah? I’d like to share how I answered, and then fill in the lines with a little color.

First, two pieces of background information.

1. Benjamin Warfield contends that the Bible is the “Book of mankind,” since through it many peoples have become literate, opening the way for greater learning and scientific inquiry. This historical verity is accountable for much of the literacy throughout the whole world, including the English speaking peoples (Side note: Cable & Baugh have a wonderful treatment on the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons in their book “The History of the English Language”).

2. On the evening of April 4th, 2013, a lecture titled “Why I’m Not An Atheist” was presented by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale at Princeton University. The entirety of it can be seen here:

For my purposes, I’ve typed out this important question asked by an atheist in the crowd, and its answer:

Student question:

“When you say that atheists have no basis for morals, it seems that you are ignoring the existence of mankind, in that we can look at the world and see that peace leads to prosperity and nations… we can look and see that, objectively, trust and safety in communities allow art and science and technology to prosper. You attack atheists like Hitler and the lonely rich, but it seems like a bit of a stretch to think that all atheists search for happiness in murder, power, and cutthroat business. So it seems like you are attacking the weak nihilist, who looks at the universe and sees that there is no ultimate moral authority and leaves it at that, but you are ignoring the strong nihilists, who look at the universe, see no moral authority, and say “this is an opportunity for us to use reason, to use our experiences, to create morals, to create the society that can further us, that can create the happiest society. So two questions – 1. Is it fair to ignore these strong nihilists, and 2. Isn’t it more noble to use our own reason and experiences to form morals than to put blind faith in an old out-dated text?

Ravi’s answer:

“The question is not whether an atheist can be a good person or not, the question is [if there is a] rationally reducible extension of reason to do that- except pragmatically that you want to live in peace, but that is assuming that peace is a good thing… There are people today in the world who want to eradicate it, and then the world will be a better place. What is the grounds for us reasoning with that kind of person? ‘Oh, yeah, we all need to get along.’ He says, ‘Yeah, well I get along better when you are not around.'”

Now, Ravi’s answer is a good jump off for understanding my discussion. The university student to whom I was talking had a similar question to the above Princeton student. I followed the same basic pattern of thought that Ravi did; however, they were not asking about nihilists or Muslims, but they were asking about Eastern philosophies. Shouldn’t that be more difficult? Sure, one might think, it is easy to defend an idea of peace against “radical” Muslims or a Hitler, but Buddah? Guy was probably just kicking back – comm’on!

Enter Warfield. Interestingly enough, the way the question was intially brought up was in the context of my contention that just as literacy spread throughout the earth because of Christianity, so real ideals of peace which now stay the nations are the resulting factor of Christian dogma. “But what about,” comes the response, “nations which had peace without Jesus? Like Buddah’s?”

This is roughly what I said: “Well, you might argue they both maintain or create peace, but then it must be asked, ‘What is peace?’ There are differing conceptions of what it means between Eastern and Christian philosophies. When I was in Thailand I saw the red light distrinct. Young girls were numbered off like cattle and sold for sexual pleasure, many by no volition of their own. I questioned a local woman who told me these girls ‘get what they deserve, for in a past life they must have done evil.’ Is this doctrine of karma a true peace? In the Eastern eye whatever is, is without disruption, ‘peace.’ But for the Christian peace is only understood in terms of being right with God. Prostitution is evil in His sight, so prostitution is at odds with peace, and this has ramifications for how man lives with man.”

After this came the assertion, “Okay, but I knew a man who lived in a small African village, and he was old and his wife had passed away. Clearly, it is evil for him to go around raping women to fulfill his sexual desires, but he told me that having a village prostitute helped to stop him and other men from that evil. What about that?”

I said, “Is the answer to evil more evil? If you replace evil with another evil, what do you have? Evil. But in Christ, evil has been conquered by good. And through Christ, man is enabled to live at peace with God.”

This was the end of that portion of our conversation, but as I continued to think on it I was struck by the nonchalance of my challenger’s acceptance of evil. Our undergirding socially constructed ideals about peace as a society and people are deeply influenced and produced by our sociological inheritance. If peace is not to be defined by God, then by what? Indeed, there is no such thing as peace without God. And this is not merely a sociological issue, though this was how we spoke about it, but a deeply personal issue. We know when we sin we are setting ourselves against God Almighty. We know that replacing sin with lesser sin is still sin, and that we are still at enmity with God so long as we are slaves to sin. We become like dogs who cower in their shame and back away from a wrathful master in fear. Perhaps we conviniently supress the knowledge that God is there so we can keep on sinning.

As long as we do so, we are enemies of peace.
“There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.” – Isaiah 48:22

Look how closely the commands of the LORD are attached to peace. Malachi 2:6 “True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity.”

And in Jesus alone is true ultimate peace. Listen to these words:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” – Colossians 1

It may be hard to get our minds around it, but all peace (in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible), even for the Buddhist or Muslim, ultimately comes from Jesus. The curse that this world is under, with its resultant evil dissemated throughout our existence of time and space, can only be extinguished or conquered, by Jesus alone. What other sort of peace is there if not reconciliation with God? True peace with men only comes through peace with God, for everything we do and think anthropologically has theological ramifications, and vice versa toward sociological order.

May we, then, be people then who point to Jesus in order to say, “Shalom”, or “peace be with you.” Peace has no other genesis or referent.

 

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“The Word” Became Flesh

Carl Dreyer’s Ordet (1955), translated as “The Word” in English, is a Danish film adaptation of the theatrical play written by Lutheran minister Kaj Munk in 1925. The film has garnered much attention in the realm of spirituality in film, and is regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, spiritually significant films. Among its honors are the 1956 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Film, the Golden Lion (the highest prize of the Venice International Film Festival), the number one rank of “most spiritually significant film of all time” in 2010 by the Arts and Faith online community, and the Vatican’s one of fifteen “important films” pertaining to religion.

Munk’s Ordet is primarily the story of faith and love overcoming skepticism and doubt. On a small Danish farm in a hauntingly quiet rural setting, a dogmatic orthodox farmer’s family is torn asunder by various trials: one child believes he is Jesus the Christ himself, another is a cynical and stoic atheist, a third falls in love with a rival family’s daughter, forcing his father to face the doctrinal divide between their families, and all this comes to a climax in the death of the farm’s mother figure. All this conflict is put to the viewer as a question, asking, “Is there a place for the power of God today?” And the story unequivocally answers back, “Yes.” In the analysis that follows, we will investigate, through Robert B. Strimple’s book, “The Modern Search for the Real Jesus,” how Munk is able to say, “Yes,” and how that has significant implications for the Christian searching for Jesus today.

The foundational and epistemological assumption the viewer must be prepared to accept to understand Munk’s script is the Kantian distinction between scientific and religious knowledge. This is the fountainhead for the film’s skepticism and agnosticism, and its chilling desperation for faith. While referring most directly to an earthly father, the first word spoken in the film is, “Father?”, a demonstration of the distance felt between God above and men below. Miracles, a constant point of tension, are mentioned sixteen times in the film, representing the connection between the empirical, that which we sense here on earth, and the transcendent, that which is divine. Johannes’s atheist brother denies any spiritual presence on earth, saying, “It is all so meaningless – so meaningless.” Not only does Germany’s late nineteenth century Ritschlian Liberalism also put forth this strong and impossible Kantian division between heaven and earth, it also, along with Munk, puts forth this answer to the ineffable gap between the two: love; it is love, along with the faith of Bultmann-like existentialism, that Munk is able to provide an answer to the hopeless gap, albeit a faulty answer.

Picture of the play’s author

Faith and love work together for Munk’s depiction of the historical Jesus in Johannes; for Munk they become equivalents, as the reader will shortly understand. While Ritchlian Liberalism characterizes Munk’s value of love, the basis for love and Richtlian value is found in existentialism. This existentialism accounts for the psychological turmoil Johannes finds himself in. The film’s minister, after first meeting Johannes, who believes himself to be “Jesus of Nazareth,” was told something was wrong with Johannes. Therefore he asks Johannes’s brother Mikkel, “Was it… a love affair?” And Mikkel says, “It was Søren Kierkegaard.” Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism, produces the “leap of faith” theology necessary to embrace value judgments like love and hope. Johannes, we are told, “had a difficult time with speculation and doubts… [which] turned inward.” Strimple explains this phenomena as “[an embracing of] uncertainty as integral to being” (119). It is this blind nonsensical faith which allows for the film to communicate change and hope in the physical realm, and allows Johannes to make sense for his family the value of love.

Value judgments like love, following after this existentialism, become far more important for Munk than any historical ones. Both Munk and Albrecht Ritschl believe, as Strimple says, that “the concept of the kingdom of God… [is] interpreted solely in ethical and social terms. The kingdom comes as men unite for common moral action, motivated by love” (51). And so Mikkel’s atheism is written off by Inger, his wife, who explains that virtue, not doctrine, brings one close with God. Mikkel confesses that not only does
he not have faith, but has no “faith in faith.”

Inger replies,

But you have something else, something more important. A heart, goodness. I tell you, it is not enough to have faith if one is not a good person at the same time. And that’s what you are… [Faith] will come… Yes. And then you will see how warm you will feel, a glow inside you, and you’ll be so happy.

This faith, a faith which finds the divine, comes only through acts of love and goodness; that is, it comes through value judgments. Inger’s “I tell you” seems to be a reference to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount when he says, “But I say to you…” This, then, is a pivotal point in the film, a point which seems to correct or re-orient the viewer’s current position with new teaching. Around this value judgment hangs the whole film.

The answer, then, to the distance between God and man becomes the act of love upheld by faith. Strimple explains how this value judgment should be interpreted:

In Ritschl’s estimation, religious affirmations – regarding God, for example – are strictly ‘value judgments.’ That qualifier, ‘value,’ cuts two ways: a value judgment is a judgment that affirms what we consider to be of value for our life; at the same time, it is a judgement that actually has value in making our life the kind of life it should be. A person can come to a sense of his or her own dignity and worth through the idea of a God who is his or her Creator, Savior, and Sustainer. But remember, Ritchl emphasized that this doctrine of a divine being is strictly a value judgment. (50)

The tension of value cutting both ways is well depicted in the conversation Mikkel and Inger have with Anders, the youngest brother. Though and unknown doctrine divides two families, the farmer’s and the tailor’s, the value judgment of love bridges this gap, too. Inger says, “Anders! You haven’t fallen in love with the tailor’s Anne?” …You know, they’ve got quite different ideas about religion.” Anders, knowing this to be the case, says, “We love each other. It doesn’t make any difference.” To which Inger says as the final thought, “Yes, that’s what we think too, Mikkel and I.” Inger again gaps the distance between belief and unbelief not only through her belief in love for Ander’s romantic situation, but between belief and unbelief in the divisive nature of dogma for herself and Mikkel. In this way love becomes the qualifier by which life not only is seen as communal, but is made communal. This type of common brotherhood, an acceptance of all of humankind under the banner of faith, hope, and love, appears as Munk’s explicit purpose for the film, and is proposed under the guise of blind faith in God, most clearly demonstrated in Johannes.

Munk’s view of Jesus, and even the historical Jesus, only now under the banner of love, becomes manifest in the person of Johannes. Under existentialism the issue of Johannes being divinity is a moot point (119): functionally Munk, like Ritschl, “emphatically repudiat[es] the orthodox doctrine of Christ’s two natures, yet he retain[es] the traditional terms, such as deity, in order to express the value, the unique value, of Jesus’ life for us” (51). Jesus, in this way, is not divinity condescending to die on the cross for the sins of his people, but Jesus is he who stands squarely and preeminently in that place of highest value, pointing us to community and life. Therefore, when Johannes performs god-like miracles, it is not simply a modern day miracle to bridge the gap between science and religion, a cheap trick or evangelistic propaganda, but a statement about the existential power of faith and love. Whether or not the film’s demonstration of miracles asserts something actually happening in reality is not important (notice how the clock is stopped by Anders), but important for Munk essential is the reality that a blind existential faith can and truly does produce manifestations of the divine presence, whether that be in the form of a prophet-like man or communal love.

The genuine Christian believer has no such existential blindness; his epistemology is not rooted in rationalism (15), or in a blind faith which makes room for love, but in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which are a light to life’s path. Therefore, the revelation of God which came down, not the rationality of man which looks up, is the answer to Munk’s hopelessness. Jesus Christ is not Kierkegaard’s “Knight of Infinite Resignation,” or “Knight of [blind nonsensical] Faith”, neither is he Munk’s Johannes, or Munk’s faith, but He is God descended from heaven to earth in the flesh. He is not an idea, a myth, blind faith in the infinite gap, or an appropriated persona, but a person who lived and died for His people in the first century of our Lord. The true Christian can answer “Yes” to the question “Is there a place for the power of God today?” because the Jesus of history was incarnate of the virgin Mary, suffered, died, rose, ascended, gave his Spirit to the church, and sits at the right hand of God, ever making intercession. For this reason also, Ordet, “the word,” has meaning; otherwise, love cannot be defended as an ultimate value, but only a subjective one. But the Christian knows what love is because Christ, the Word, gave his life for sinners.

The film’s last word, “Life!”, representing the fullness of faith and love expressed in the characters, becomes Mikkel’s declaration of “It is all so meaningless” if it is taken apart from God condescending to reveal Himself to man (especially through the historical space & time Jesus). If the historical Jesus did not come and die, then what does “faith” and “life” mean? We know true life only if we know Jesus. The true Christian can look on Munk’s film only in appreciation for its question, but not for its answers; Jesus is made known in the gospels, not in this existential experience. Jesus is not a wandering sage pointing to the truth and the need for faith, but He is Truth pointing to Himself, and faith finds meaning only in Him. The power of God today is seen, then, in the Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. “The Word” is not something we create today, He is the eternal Way, Truth, and Life spoken forever, and given to us in the Holy Bible, the Word who became flesh.

 

The Misnomer of Aronofsky’s “Noah”

Having very much enjoyed some of Darren Aronofsky’s work in filmmaking, especially due to those attributes the Huffington Post mentioned in their review of Noah (“the canted camera angles of ‘Requiem,’ the unfiltered feel of ‘The Wrestler,’ the psychological twilight of ‘Black Swan'”), I was looking forward to sitting down in the theater for this epic.

However, much to my dismay, the versimilitude of the movie was quickly shot by its Biblical infidelity. To this time disagree with the Huffington post, who claimed “Everything you’ve read in the Bible is there. It just fills in the holes with fantasy. So calm down”, I evoke a sigh of relief by noting a few (emphasize “few”) important deviations from the truth (i.e., the Biblical narrative) in an epic countdown:

3. The Earth, Animals, & Dominion

While the film had a quirky yet effective montage (Aronofsky usually very effective with this) of the fall of man, visiting numerous times the eating of the forbidden fruit and Cain’s act of murder, it appears that the extent of the fall of man excludes the earth. For this reason the flood is construed as a portal through which all of mankind would be exterminated and the animals could then live in peace and harmony on a sinless earth (man now extinct).

However, Romans 8:22 makes clear that “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth…”, pain in childbirth being a result of the curse (Gen. 3:16). In fact, it is rather surprising the film missed this since Gen. 5:29 attaches this significance to a name: “Now he called his name Noah, saying, ‘This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.'”

Noah is seen as one who will reverse the curse of Gen. 3:15 by doing what Adam could not. The command to Adam, then, to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28), applies to Noah, so that a cessation of humanity would be against God’s intent for mankind, thereby making Him capricious. But on the contrary, God blesses Noah and tells him to multiply on the earth after the flood (9:1).

It is notable that the only time God’s command to Adam to subdue the earth is quoted is in the mouth of Tubal-Cain, the arch-enemy of the film. Subduing the earth and movement away from agrarianism is considered evil, but Isaiah 45:18 says, “For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!)”.

2. Sin & Noah’s Fault

Gen. 6:5,11 says “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually… the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence.”

It is interesting how the film tries to interpret “man.” Aronofsky’s Noah uses the term to refer to all those outside his family, or household. Surely there is no warrant for this Biblically. And while Aronofsky’s Noah tries to maintain that even himself and his household are under sin, he actually turns out to be in-the-wrong, and is told by numerous characters, especially his wife, that the core of his sons are actually good.

This doesn’t sit well with Gen. 6:5, or scriptures like Ps. 51:5 where David says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” The result of the fall, according to scripture, is not a partial depravity, but a thorough corruption. While the hope for Noah is that he would be a new Adam perfectly obeying, even he sins after getting off the ark by getting drunk (especially represented by his nakedness, as with Adam & Eve). The world awaits another savior, one who is morally perfect, who is the Christ to come (the “second Adam”).

But this is not the hope for Aronofsky. The film maintains that men are basically innocent, despite the vast corruption of humanity. This comes out quite a few times, most notably with Ham’s girlfriend, who Ham says is innocent. The twins born are also maintained as innocent (despite Ps. 51:5, quoted above). The physical world is said to be innocent. And yet, Biblically, none of these are innocent (Rom. 3:9-18), so that the only hope for humanity is the mercy of God.

You would think that a movie so focused on judgement would understand mercy, but this is woefully not the case. In fact, Aronofsky’s Noah finally resigns himself to the pressure of his family and conscience, so that God is actually made out to be unjust in wanting to destroy all mankind (noteworthy again is the fact that, Biblically, God doesn’t intend to destroy all of mankind, but preserves Noah and his family). Would God be unjust to do such a thing? He would be if men were innocent, as the film argues, but in fact, there is none innocent (Rom. 3:9-18), so that all deserve judgement and death.

Interestingly enough, Noah is said to be a herald of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5), but Aronofsky’s Noah seems to be well set and happy about the destruction of humanity, even killing off quite a few himself. There is no Biblical notion of this. Instead, the idea is that Noah was mocked and derided for his belief in the judgement to come, and the peoples of the earth largely ignored him while continuing in their eating, and drinking, and being merry (Luke 17:26-27) – They were not crowding the ark as soon as the rains came, they were not Tubal-Cain yelling at the heavens for God to reveal Himself, they were well satisfied with their rebellion against the Creator, revelling in their ignorance and evil ways.

1. Revelation – God meets Noah

Is Aronofsky’s Noah a Biblical prophet? While his dreams were rather confusing, it seems they were authoritative, for what he thought would happen actually happened. But it is either that Noah heard clearly from God that all humanity was supposed to be wiped out (including his family), so that Noah actually rebels against God in the end, or it is that God’s revelation to Noah wasn’t clear and Noah actually realizes how wrong he was, which is the film’s implication.

Aside from the fact that the scripture never even gets close to indicating God desired Noah’s family to be wiped out (in fact, all the sons have healthy baby making wives, all who are blessed by God), is the revelation (or message) of God to Noah somehow unclear? In the film, we never hear audibly from God, but Noah either gets a dream or stares blankly at the clouded sky. The silence of God is clearly popular in Aronofsky’s mind.

So when the Bible says, “God said to Noah” (Gen. 6:13), are we to believe God did not actually say to Noah? A friend of mine didn’t want to watch the film, for he thought it would portray God in physical form (a violation of the second commandment of Ex. 20), and the reason he thought that is because God sometimes manifests Himself in physical form. In Gen. 3:8 it is said that Adam and Eve heard his footsteps, and there are many appearances of God physically throughout the Hebrew scriptures (especially as “The Angel of the LORD”).

Couldn’t the Lord have simply spoken audibly from the heavens? Sure, that could be the case, or he may have physically manifested himself, but the point is that God spoke to Noah, as the scriptures say, not gave him general impressions for him to interpret. Even the specific dimensions of the ark are given by God directly (Gen. 6:15), just as the interpretation of the rainbow is given by God (Gen. 9:12-17), so that God’s word is not only authoritative, but it is clear, and it is sufficient.

This is an important point because the whole second half of the film is trying to deal with the tension between Noah’s revelation from God and what they believe to be true about the future, which seems equally unknown to everyone. This is not the case in scripture, for God knows the beginning from the end of things, and never reveals Himself to his people in vain (Is. 55:11), but He says “I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right.”

Conclusion:

Unfortunately, Aronofsky’s Noah does not appear to be a prophet knowing God’s word, but a mystic sikh who is more in touch with the earth than with a God who infallibly directs all human history. Aronofsky’s Noah gives in to the understanding of sin given by others and makes God out to be capricious, which would drive anyone to get drunk times over.

No, Aronofsky’s Noah is no Noah at all. This story can be added to the pantheon of pagan flood epics, with Gilgamesh and Atrahasis.

For God has said to us:
When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” (Gen. 5:28-29)

The hope for scripture is in one who would save us from the curse, but for Aronofsky the curse doesn’t extend to all the earth – it doesn’t even extend to the whole of humanity, and because of that the Lord is wrong to desire judgement on all men, and equally wrong to think people need judging (or saving!). But Scripture tells us we are in a helpless place, and that the hope was for Noah to save us.

Noah failed to do that very thing, but there is One who has, and His name is Jesus. This same Jesus said a flood and judgement is coming for us (Luke 17:24-18:8), and when it comes, the question is – will you make it through on the ark? This is the same as asking, “will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). This is the significance of the true Noah, and as far as it is missed, there is no Noah.

Aronofsky’s “Noah” is a misnomer.

Christian Existentialism?

Is Christian faith a leap-of-faith theology? Is universal human experience projected into the stories and moments which make up the Biblical narrative, so that they are for us, myth?

Rudolph Bultmann follows the existentialism of Heideggar, claiming that Heideggar essentially says the same thing about reality as the New Testament, yet wholly apart from it. For a little background, Heideggar contended that our being (“sein”) is just there (“dasein”), so that is has a certain “throwness” to it, extended in time and space. This is a reality we encounter every waking moment. We wake up in the morning and we are there – just there. However, we also encounter the reality of nothingness. We all stare nothingness in the face every waking moment. When we wake up in the morning, we are there instead of not there. Why? Why something, or someone, rather than nothing, and no one? This is the core existential question. How we decide to live knowing that the whole of our existence is radically contingent, knowing everything could and would go on without me? There are those who fill that tension with “externals”, who cram in the noise of everyday living and mundane concerns to keep us from feeling the unbearable weight of the tension of the dark drab meaninglessness of our self-existence. For Bultmann & Heideggar this is cowardly. And for Bultmann, Jesus’ essential significance for us stems from the fact that he alone kept the tension of his contingency at the forefront. He stared death in the face fearlessly, even to the point of death on the cross.

The Bible, then, is an expression of this existential answer for the church, and it must be “demythologized” to find its core existential message. Heideggar was said to “chuckle” that Bultmann put existential significance specially in Jesus, for if this is all true, then Jesus is just one expression of a particular faith-community.

But can the Bible be seen as essentially an existential statement projected into certain forms belonging to the faith-community of the first century alone, so that we who are now more advanced can shed the forms of the Biblical narrative for its striking existential core of meaning?

Looking at how the Bible speaks of Jesus will help us answer this question.

Colossians 1:13-17 says

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, because by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he Himself is before all things, and in him all things subsist.”

First of all, what does it mean that Jesus is the “firstborn of all creation”? Does that mean He is a created thing, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses would contend? “Firstborn” is a term used throughout the scripture, and is often used to denote superiority or dignity, such as in Ps. 89:27, used in the same way here. The “He is” in the Greek can also be taken without reference to time, meaning that outside of time Jesus is both the image of God and firstborn of creation, with “of creation” meaning superior over creation (Greek note: Objective genitive).

This all trends toward what Herman Ridderbos said: “It can even be maintained that by the name Image of God in the passages in question Paul intended to elucidate “the eternal relationship of the Father to the Son” (Paul, 71), whereas firstborn over all of creation implies a definite priority of the uncreated Son with reference all things created (Paul, 82).

What confirms all this is verse 16, which says “by Him all things were created”, and we aren’t left thinking “what are ‘all things'” because Colossians says all things in heaven and earth, which corresponds to the visible and the invisible. And what’s more, this is a clear kickback to Genesis 1 – “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”, so that Jesus’ divine being is said here to be eternal. He is without time and space.

What about the “throwness” of being? The confrontation with nothingness? Could it be that the scriptures are expressing the eternality of Jesus as a way of saying that our existential experience reaches beyond even time and space? There are two reasons this can’t be the case. 1) The “because” of verse 16 makes Jesus stand far above “all things” (the all things of Genesis 1 which would include humanity), they existing not only by him, but for him. And 2) verse 17 says “in him all things subsist” (could also be translated “hold together” or “cohere”). This means that all contingent beings, or things, are only being there (“dasein”) by and for Jesus. How then, could the cross be an expression of the tension of his radical contingency in facing nothingness? In Jesus is everythingness. In Jesus are all contingencies, so that the scriptures flatly contradicts this existential approach to scripture.

And yet, let us not forget that although all things exist by and for Him, verse 13 makes it clear that this same One took on flesh and dwelt among us. The One in whom all contingencies exist became contingent! Of course, He did not leave His eternal nature behind (as if by subtraction), but assumed (added) humanity to His person to redeem His people. In this way the atemporal became temporal, the One outside of time entered in, and so we must relate to Him as both God and man. We must see the eternal purpose of God in the Son (outside heavens & earth, visible & invisible), and yet we must see the history of God’s purpose unfolding not only by and through the Son, but with Him as the center figure.

It is this unfolding of revelation which provides for our turn toward Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism. My argument is essentially the same as the one toward Bultmann and Heideggar; that is, when focusing so specifically on the individual-existential situation, the explicit and scriptural grand narrative and overarching purpose becomes obscured and discarded at the very cost of its meaning. The interpreter comes either with the presupposition that they ought to only listen to what pertains to this aforementioned existential anxiety (brought about by Kantian philosophy, but that is for another time), or they allow scripture to speak for itself and interpret itself as it pertains to that very existential quandary (and every other type & topic). Let me recap what Kierkegaard argues in his work “Fear & Trembling”, which centers on the narrative of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22.

For Kierkegaard the existential situation is not being and nothingness per se, but the tension is the same. Kierkegaard writes that “[m]ost people live completely absorbed in worldly joys and sorrows; they are benchwarmers who do not take part in the dance.” For Kierkegaard, taking part in the dance is a matter of faith. He says, “By faith I do not renounce anything; on the contrary, by faith I receive everything exactly in the sense in which it is said that one who has faith like a mustard seed can move mountains. It takes a purely human courage to renounce the whole temporal realm in order to gain eternity… But it takes a paradoxical and humble courage to grasp the whole temporal realm now by virtue of the absurd, and this is the courage of faith.” By faith, then, Abraham is said to enter in to the realm of absurdity by suspending his ethical judgments (i.e., that he should not kill his son). For Abraham this is not a mere infinite resignation to do what is absurd, but a step of faith, in which authentic existence is found.

To be a “knight of faith” the Christian existentialist must have faith in God and His word, just as His word to Abraham, even if it is capricious or counter-intuitive or absurd, because there is no reason, in this spacio-temporal realm, to accept “objective” values (be they moral or whatever) which cannot be tested by the senses – these are accepted by “faith”, or “blind faith”, to use a colloquialism.

Is this what Genesis 22 teaches? That we also should be like Abraham who make this irrational leap of faith into the nonsensible realm? It was the unfolding of revelation which turned us toward Kierkegaard, and that is where we begin. What was God revealing in Genesis 22?

Well, turn back a few chapters to Genesis 17, where God says,

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations… I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

Now, first of all, when it says in 17:1 that the Lord appeared to Abraham to speak this, was the moment in the realm of the non-sensical (Kantian “noumenal”)? Even if it were so, in chapter 18 the Lord appears as an man and sits down to eat with Abraham to give the message of Isaac’s birth (its significance being that through Isaac blessings would come to the nations – Gen. 18:18). How then is Gen. 22 taken as a leap of faith into the irrational? The Lord’s revelation to Abraham is not a guess, or an impression, or anything like it, but it is a clear revelation clearly spoken by God Himself, just as the Lord physically walked and spoke in time and space as a man with Adam (Gen. 3:8). Will we let the text speak for itself, or must we impose upon it certain parameters which outlaw its very message (i.e., that God spoke to certain men differently than he spoke to others)? In order for Kierkegaard to make Abraham’s experience analogous to ours, which he does, we must reject that God specially revealed Himself to Abraham in this way, but that would be to reject what the text plainly teaches about how God spoke with Abraham.

Second, the defining factor for the story of sacrifice is faith in God, not faith in the absurd, irrational, or non-sensical. Listen to what the author of Hebrews writes,

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (11:17-19).

How would blessings come to the nations, or kings come from Abraham – how would God’s word be true, if Abraham’s son was dead? When Kierkegaard describes the “knight of infinite resignation”, he puts forth a notion that to be infinitely resigned is necessary because the future and the outcome of our faith is entirely and completely unknowable to the rational mind. This is exactly the opposite of what the Bible puts forth as faith. While it was unseen that God could bring Isaac back from the dead, the character of God’s promise (“I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you”) is such that it is so sure to happen in time and space, that even miracles will be wrought that its end may come. It is fixed. To have faith in God is to have faith that what He says about time and space (our sensible realm) is the truth; and in fact, it is the only truth, so that irrationality is not having faith in God, and irrationality is believing anything other than what God has said (which, ironically, these existentialists are prone to do).

For this reason faith is not a faith in the irrational, but it is a faith in God, who is the measure of rationality! And to prove God’s faithfulness to His promise, that He would even raise one from the dead, He gave Jesus, who lived in space and time – the Son. The purpose of Abraham’s sacrifice is only seen fully in the light of God’s. Abraham cannot be seen as speaking with God in isolation from God’s unfolding of revelation, starting with Adam and ending with Christ (Heb. 1:1). In Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, that through his seed the nations would be blessed. So, then, because we are not directly players in the revelation of this promise (but recipients), to pattern our lives and existential quandaries after them would completely miss the point of what the Bible says about our personal lives in space and time.

So finally then, the faith once for all delivered to the saints is not an irrational one, but is unfolded by He who is ultimate rationality. It is not divorced from time and space, for Jesus, in whom all contingencies exist, entered into time and space to live and die, that our faith might be secure in God – and God has given sufficient proof to all men not only of His eternal power and divine nature throughout creation, but by raising His Son from the dead and seating Him in the heavens. A so-called “Christian Existentialism” does nothing but overthrow the message of the Bible by coming to it with terms that cannot and will not be justified with the text itself. The existential hermeneutic is a hermeneutic of unbelief – unbelief that God has revealed Himself, and that climatically in His Son.

May our God continue to save us from our self-sufficiency, save us from our thoughts of self-existence, and help us see that we may have eternal life in Christ, a life which escapes all fear of death or “nothingness” and makes void every notion of irrational faith through a faith grounded and vindicated in the God who raised Jesus from the dead, for we who believe are also seated with Him and wait for His further revelation from heaven. May He quickly come. Amen.

 

**Leaned upon Strimple on the Historical Jesus, Vos on Biblical Theology, Van Til for ultimate rationality, and the lecture material of Lane Tipton for Colossians.

First Letter ESV

I needn’t tell you why memorizing scripture is good and necessary, for scripture consistently and constantly testifies to its own memory and use.

However, there are many useful methods to memorize. One such method works through contextual recollection, which, as that descriptor might hint at, is helpful for getting at large portions of text. In order to help the reader contextualize, but not simply give them the words to memorize, the first letter of every word is given. In this way the actual content (words) must be memorized, but their memorization is helped along by their relation to others. In my experience, this helps me use logical and syntactical relationships within the passage for memorization, instead of seeing the words as a string of data which are in turn taken into mind.

Now, I’ve gone ahead and thrown my best HTML and Javascript coding skills at this idea, and I managed to produce a full translation of the ESV with the first letters, henceforth called “F.L.E.S.V.” (First Letter English Standard Version). You should know that it is the 2004 edition, which is slightly different than the 2007. I noticed this only after doing all the work.

I’ve managed to get this on my phone with “PocketSword”, may favorite IPhone Bible app (text is Ephesians 1): 

photo

I’m sure you can already start to make out the text just by familiarity with Pauline literature. That familiarity is a good thing. Also, reading the text at different speeds has helped me find a niche where I am comfortable memorizing. I hope this proves useful for others.

Here is a download to the executable of the program (*.exe extension which can be ran on any windows computer):

http://www.mediafire.com/download/76zz662jjwh80d1/FLESV.exe

In order to convert it to other formats, this tool can be used:

http://www.churchsw.org/2013/02/simple-bible-reader-converter.html

I did work rather hard to produce a PDF of the text, but in order to avoid any copyright issues, or what have you, you may ask me for it only if you know me personally.

My prayer is that your devotional life grow deeper, your love of the Word grow more robust, that the praise of the LORD will be on your lips and in your heart, and that in his Word you may have hope.

Ps. 119:74 “Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word.”

Safe Surfing

If you are like me, perhaps the greatest annoyance in web surfing the net is its ads. Often these can be influential, intrusive, and inappropriate (sometimes down right pornographic). I’ve had a number of Christians ask for help in this area, so I hope the tools here will be of good use for the bride of Christ.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)

Safe surfing really requires a preemptive strike on all the filth one might find. More often then not, this is in the ads. So, if you have Google Chrome, I highly suggest using some of these tools for yourself or your family to cut down on the brash and worldly rubbish floating around out there, or finding the equivalent for another browser (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, etc.):

1) Improved Youtube – A great way to clear off the segments of YT which may prove unwanted. Also, start using this well and you’ll feel like you took the remote out of YT’s hand.

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/youtube-options/bdokagampppgbnjfdlkfpphniapiiifn?hl=en

2) Facebook AdBlock – For the FB frequenter who is sick of seeing personalized ads.

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/facebook-adblock/lfpacabphcagfehdgnigmfnbjdampbaa?hl=en-US

3) Adblock Plus – This is the catch all, oil-pan type ad remover. It makes surfing most the web far more comfortable.

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/adblock-plus/cfhdojbkjhnklbpkdaibdccddilifddb?hl=en-US

A more top-down approach may be necessary, in which case filtering not at the software level but at the router level is preferable (i.e., Control what all users connecting to the router/local network can access). There are a number of useful services, but here is a free and useful one:

OpenDNS – “controls that protect every Internet-connected device in your home, instantly.”

http://www.opendns.com/home-internet-security/parental-controls/opendns-home-vip/?var=1

Take control of your internet experience before it takes control of you.